Port EIR undercuts clean air plan
Massive Cuts In Ship Pollution Stretched Out Till 2015
By Paul Rosenberg
Tom Politeo/Harbor Vision Task Force
The TraPac terminal is visible from homes one block to the north in WIlmington.
SENIOR EDITOR AT THE RANDOM LENGTHS NEWS
At an Aug. 31 public comment hearing, critics said a new Port of Los Angeles Draft Environmental Impact Report would undercut the landmark Clean Air Action Plan, which the port helped draft last year. Most notably, while the plan calls for ships to switch to using low-sulfur fuels almost immediately, the draft report envisions an eight-year phase-in period.
The draft EIR is for the expansion of a container terminal operated by the shipping company TraPac. The terminal unloads ships stacked with thousands of 40-foot-long cargo containers full of imported goods. Located barely more than a block south of homes in Wilmington, the terminal already exposes residents to air pollution, noise and trucks rumbling close to home. The draft EIR is one of about a dozen major EIRs that are expected from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in the near future.
At the hearing, project supporters echoed the simple, disciplined message of “green growth,” with few, if any, specific comments on the actual document under consideration: the project’s 6,000 page draft EIR/. In contrast, critics grappled with a wide range of potential problems, mostly clustered around issues of off-port impacts, cumulative impacts and failure to deliver on “green growth” promises.
As originally envisioned, such concerns would have been aired earlier in the process before the Port Community Advisory Committee, but under the Villaraigosa administration, the advisory committee has been shunted aside as much as possible--and the TraPac draft EIR process proved no exception. The Port declined to present it to the committee ahead of the public meeting.
Alexander Pugh of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, set the tone for supporters with his 15-minute prepared presentation. But Adrian Martinez of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) warned: “There is an acute need for a new vision for how the business of freight transport is conducted at the port.” He expressed disappointment that the draft EIR’s mitigation section “reads as if [the Clean Air Action Plan] was the ceiling for air quality mitigation” rather than the floor. Colleen Calahan of the American Lung Association agreed.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District later joined the consensus.
“We would agree that the lead agencies have used the [clean air plan] as a ceiling and not a floor,” AQMD spokesperson Tina Cherry told the San Pedro-based newspaper Random Lengths News by phone. “We believe the mitigation measures need to go beyond that [plan].” ***The 30 year lease period for the plan is beyond the duration of the clean air plan.
Cherry said that the AQMD is also recommending inclusion of measures from its 2007 Air Quality Management Plan.
Homeowner representative Andrew Mardesich chimed in, “In the history of Los Angeles, not one draft EIR has been turned down.”
The NRDC’s Martinez drew specific attention to the low-sulfur fuels standard in ships, which the draft EIR would not completely phase in until 2015. Instead, Martinez said, all ships should use 0.2 percent low-sulfur fuels as soon as possible, and 0.1 percent by 2010. Indeed, Sen. Barbara Boxer held a field hearing at Port of Los Angeles headquarters on Aug. 9 for a hearing on her bill to make 0.1 percent low-sulfur fuels mandatory nationwide by 2010. Ironically, the port’s Executive Director Geraldine Knatz testified in support of Boxer’s efforts, with no hint of the contradiction between Boxer’s bill and the TraPac draft EIR.
As the meeting continued, Dr. John Miller, of the advisory committee draft EIR Subcommittee and a member of the Angeles Chapter Harbor Vision Task Force, called the draft EIR “fundamentally flawed,” arguing that it “underestimates impacts” in a variety of ways, minimizing the number of ship calls by assuming a volume of larger ships that may not materialize, low-balling idling times for trucks and trains, and assuming continued under-utilization of off-peak shifts. At full capacity, the number of containers going through the port could more than double existing projections. Echoing this last concern, Martinez called for container fees to generate additional mitigation funds when throughput projects are exceeded.
Health, aesthetics and land use impacts all came in for criticism, especially for the massive amount of cumulative impacts involved.
Cecilia Mora, who lives four blocks form TraPac, said, “Almost every family I know has children with asthma.” The people of Wilmington have been “deprived of the right to live a healthy life,” she added. Some of her struggles were documented in Breathless in Los Angeles, a 30 minute film hosted by Daryl Hannah (Brave New Films in association with Sierra Club Productions).
“We object to gulping down air that may be full of ultrafine particles,” added Don Compton of the Wilmington Neighborhood Council Education Caucus.
Highlighting the impunity and indifference involved, Mardesich showed three pictures of rigs parked in residential areas—the third with Port Police chatting with the owner, before letting him go without a ticket. “This would not be tolerated in Bel-Air or Brentwood,” he said. “Could it be there are no millionaires in Wilmington?”
Failure to redress cumulative impacts is anything but theoretical, noted former Port Attorney Pat Nave. “It’s no accident that property closer to the ports is less valuable,” he said. “It is just a matter of time before you get hit with an inverse condemnation suit.” It’s no idle threat. Numerous such suits have been brought against LAX, Nave explained later.
Frank O’Brien, Executive Director of the Harbor-Watts Economic Development Corporation summed up, “If calculation of benefits goes beyond the tidelands, costs should too.”
Although the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) did not comment at the meeting, a press release from ILWU Local 63 that morning echoed the “green growth” rhetoric.
“We need to build our way to a solution,” Local 63 Secretary Peter Peyton said in the release. However, when interviewed, Peyton said union support was not a blank check.
“There’s no question we want the most decrease we can get in emissions that is feasibly possible, because we’re working in it,” Peyton stressed.
In a follow-up interview, Ralph Appy, the port’s environmental chief, declined to answer most specific criticisms, saying it was inappropriate to comment before the port could review all the public comments.
But he did offer a spirited defense in broad terms. “It’s a really aggressive program we’ve got,” Appy said. He rejected concerns about greater throughput, saying the port’s projections reflected “the maximum capacity we can get through there.”
Yet, it remains unclear if “green growth” is really anything more than just a slogan.
Because the draft EIR does not distinguish between port-wide and terminal-specific aspects of the Clean Air Action Plan, no direct comparison is available to show terminal-specific growth-related improvements.
To the contrary, a cursory examination of the draft EIR data by Random Lengths suggests that the planned expansion could result in a 15% to 22% increase by 2015 in six pollutants analyzed compared to the Clean Air Action Plan. Under this examination, the percentages rise to 22% to 46% by 2038.
Paul Rosenberg is the Senior Editor for Random Lengths News (www.randomlengthsnews.com) where a version of this story originally appeared.